This is in part a follow-up to a post of a couple of months ago when I was noting the paucity of standability and other information on corn hybrids available from university trials. Over the past year or so I’ve been conducting an email correspondence with a semi-retired plant breeder who used to work for on of the major seed companies. He’s not at all convinced at how important this data is, suggesting that much of it is available from seed companies. He’s particularly down on university alfalfa trials, and wonders if they’re even worth doing. And at least with alfalfa he may have a point since there’s been so little progress in alfalfa yield over the decades, and almost no universities test the varieties for forage quality so even if there are differences we don’t know it. I have absolutely NO idea of the forage quality of the alfalfa varieties grown now vs. 10-20 years ago, but expect that any differences are minimal. And my plant breeder buddy notes with good reason that stating the level of disease resistance of each variety or cultivar is essentially worthless since all modern varieties are rated as “High” or “Very High” in resistance to multiple diseases. I doubt that farmers pay any attention to these ratings when selecting varieties.
Corn hybrid selection is a lot more involved that alfalfa variety selection because of the differences in maturity as well as real differences in disease resistance, particularly to Northern Corn Leaf Blight. Then there’s the matter of leafy vs. BMR vs. conventional hybrids, kernel texture, digestibility, etc. My friend claims that much of this information can be secured from the seed companies, and this is where we differ since the seed companies do a fine job of evaluation their own hybrids but not competitive hybrids…not surprisingly! With the notable exception of BMR he’s right when it comes to NDF digestibility since there’s not much difference among hybrids when they’re grown under similar soil and climatic conditions. Where we differ is yield: He thinks that the seed companies are self-monitoring since they wouldn’t release any hybrid that wasn’t competitive for yield. My comment to him is that I’ve seen some real “corn dogs” both in the field and in university trials–hybrids yielding not much more than 50% of the top yielding hybrids in the trial. Fortunately these are the exceptions, but there’s a lot bigger difference in yield than in forage quality, which is why I think that university trials–at least for corn hybrids–are still useful.